Are We Listening Or Are We Only Hearing?


It’s a funny question to ask but it’s something worth pondering about. Are we really listening or are we just hearing what’s happening around us? Most of us go about our day talking to people thinking that we are sufficiently listening to the things they say. Thinking that we’re properly looking at them and paying them enough attention as we converse.

In reality, more often than not, we actually don’t take a moment to intently listen to what they have to say. They have a story. They have something they want to convey. Yet we’re just sitting there hearing everything without fully processing what they’re trying to tell us.

But in reality, is there a difference between the two?


Hearing and listening

Listening and hearing are two similar words that are often misunderstood and even interchanged.

You see, hearing is an involuntary process. It’s a simple and basic physiological act of detecting sounds. It’s the physical ability to receive these vibrations and waves through the ears. We don’t need a conscious effort to hear things. We just do. It’s easy and pretty straightforward.

On the other hand, listening is a bit more of a complex, active process. When these noises and sounds reach your brain, and you voluntarily chose to make sense out of them, that’s when you are actually listening. It needs your thoughtful attention that allows your brain to make a connection. It is understanding what has been heard. It’s a skill that you learn and practise.


Why do we have to listen?

When you think about it, we do a lot of hearing our entire lives. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear things whether we’re alone at home, at work, or with friends. We hear everything but we don’t necessarily listen to all of them.

This is crucial in terms of connecting to people as merely hearing creates a barrier to understanding the message. It is an absolute necessity that’s often overlooked.

Listening helps us relate to others. Socially, taking this for granted puts us in a passive state. You cannot properly understand what is happening or what the people are telling you because you’re just hearing what they’re saying. You fade in and out of the conversation without actually retaining any important information. And with that, you couldn’t carefully reflect on what the other person is saying and connect to them properly.

Listening also enables us to delve deeper and truly understand ourselves. Sometimes, we get too distracted that even when our bodies and our minds are screaming out loud, telling us to listen, we fail to do so. We just keep on diverting our attention from one thing to another. Our eyes are closed by our ears. But ironically, the more that we do not listen, the less we see. Our mindset wanders. We go about our days not fully paying attention. Everything, even our voices, seems to be just noise for us.

But here’s a secret. The minute you stop just hearing and start listening, that’s when the color of your life starts to come back. A veil will slowly lift and you will finally see all the beautiful hues and shades that you have been missing in your run-of-the-mill grey, monotone life.


The art of listening

A poet and philosopher, Mark Nepo, described listening as “the doorway to everything that matters. It enlivens the heart the way breathing enlivens the lungs. We listen to awaken our hearts. We do this to stay vital and alive.”

True enough, listening is the foundation of sincere relationships and the foundation of a meaningful life.

But why is it so difficult to listen?

Perhaps the real problem why we can’t tune into other people’s wavelength is because of the noise and distractions in our own minds. We get so drowned in our own chaos and stress that we don’t have the mental and emotional space to be able to truly listen to the other side. There’s just so much happening inside our heads that we fail to listen closely to the world.

So, the very first and most important step to listening to others is to clear our minds.

Listen to yourself first. Designate a few moments of quiet. Listen to your own inner orchestra; to your own sensations and emotions so you’ll be able to let them go. Tune in with yourself and be conscious of where you are at the moment. Only then will you be able to open your mind and be receptive to what the others have to say.

This way, we can then be more open to mindfully listen to the world.

Listen to the rhythmic and invigorating messages of the people around you. Notice what’s behind the words. Understand beyond what you’re hearing. Listen to the underlying message loud and clear: the feelings, emotions, and needs of that person. Hear the words that echo from inside.

Remember that the ear hears but the brain listens.

Heal your severed connection with yourself and notice how your mind finally opens to take in what others have to say.


How to practice effective listening

  1. Focus. With so many distractions in the world today, it’s easy to get lost and have our attention goes astray. Find meaning in what you hear. Consider the conversation as a learning experience. Notice the things that you haven’t possibly noticed before. Listen to their tone, the way they speak, and how they speak it.
  2. Don’t interrupt. You may have to urge to finish sentences or to talk over the person, but it actually disrupts the flow of the conversation. This also goes with your inner process. Try not to think ahead of what to reply while the other person is speaking. This allows you to receive the message more clearly.
  3. Be involved. Communication is a two-way street and so it’s important that you talk and take part in the conversation. Show interest by asking open-ended questions. It shows that you’re truly listening and would want to know more.

Mindfully listening to ourselves and others can be challenging. It’s a conscious effort and a lifetime process. It may seem like a lost art but it can be learned and can be mastered through time. Once you realize this, you’ll get to open infinite doors of opportunities and live life more fully, ear by ear.